By FRANCES GRANT
When actor Pua Magasiva debuted on Shortland Street last week, he could not have had a more promising introduction.
"Check out the eye candy," said two drooling bloned nurses as his character, job-seeking nurse Vinnie Kruse pulled up to the bar for a cold one.
No actor could complain about such favourable presentation. "Yeah, I know, oh man," says Magasiva. "It's quite strange, I don't consider myself eye candy, it's a new thing for me."
The 23-year-old Wellingtonian has no argument with his new role as the clinic's resident sex symbol. "I don't consider myself to be one but if Shortland Street sees me that way, then that's cool."
Magasiva's mates can always be relied on to keep his feet on the ground. He has copped a bit of flak from them over his new fictional profession. "Yeah, they go, 'Oh what are you doing on Shortland Street?' I go, 'I'm playing a nurse.' They go, 'Ah ha ha, you a nurse? C'mon man'.
"But it's part of the fun and games, I like it."
Fun and games is what Nurse Vinnie is all about, bringing a fresh blast of cheeky humour and rebellion to a staff under the thumb of chief nurse Judy. The soap's dragon lady, Dr Li Mei Chen, also looks like she's met her match.
"Whoa Vinnie!" is how Magasiva describes his character. "Personality-wise we're a bit similar, very outgoing sort of characters. Even though he is always playing around, he does get serious at times - especially with his work. He is serious about it and wants to do well.
"Apart from that he likes to have fun, he likes to tease people and dance around and just have fun."
Magasiva says playing Vinnie isn't hard, because he's basically just playing himself. "I'm not a very serious person. I just like to relax really."
Starting on the soap at a time when plot lines are hurtling towards the end-of-year cliffhanger was a challenge he took seriously, though. "I just held in there and took every day as it came. There was heaps happening. The work picked up so fast and quick. So I realised I had loads and loads of work to do. I was like, just get the head down and stuck into it and things will go sweetly."
Magasiva has had no formal drama training. He landed a small part on Shortland Street, in 1999, which led to roles in commercials and small roles in films and television productions. He performed in Mario Gaoa's critically acclaimed play, Two Days In Dream, in Auckland last week.
When the opportunity came up to audition for Shortland Street, he grabbed it "with four hands".
"So many people out there would love to be on the show, would love the opportunity to be on it, and I was lucky enough to get it."
But he never dreamed his first major television role would be as a nurse. "I'd rather be a patient than a nurse. I like to be cared for, I like to be pampered — no, not really." The clowning side comes out as Magasiva demonstrates his best bedside manner: "I like to care for people, you know, I like to show them compassion."
Nurse Vinnie's first scene, where he acts as interpreter and saves the life of a Samoan girl, sends a strong signal that the character's cultural background is going to be a significant part of his storylines. "I wanted to make Vinnie very cultural, a character that Pacific Island people can relate to."
If Vinnie has some stereotypical characteristics, that's because he is intentionally representative, says Magasiva. "He is very typical, but that's the way some of us are. We're being real people, I'm trying to be a real Samoan person, not trying to pretend to be someone else but just to be myself.
"And it shows when you see Vinnie, the way he talks — Pacific Islanders are loud. You know where they are from a mile away. You get a whole bunch of people laughing, that's a whole bunch of Pacific Islanders."
But there are some differences between his character and himself. Magasiva says he is no longer a fluent Samoan-speaker and his family is less traditional than the Kruse clan.
"Vinnie's family are very church related, they are very much into their church. Our family, we were that way but then we came off that and we started thinking about the realism of life. Even though we still believe in God, we still have the faith and stuff but it's not as hard-out as it used to be."
He comes from a big family of five boys and one girl. Older brother Robbie is an actor, well-known from TV roles as a religious policeman in Jacksons Wharf and the rather less buttoned-up male stripper Adam on The Strip. Another Magasiva brother is a director. Does entertaining run in the family?
"My brothers, they are very out there and very outgoing. We just like to crack people up really, just like to make people laugh. We're a very happy family, we're not very serious, we like to have a lot of fun. It's good, I like that, I guess that brings the joy out in myself, that influence that my family has on me."
Mr "Eye Candy" is a happy guy — and who wouldn't be when the prospects are so bright? The new male nurse should not have any trouble breaking into those soap storylines involving romance over the bedpans.
"I hope so, I hope I get a love interest somewhere," he says, slipping into mock Mills and Boon tones. "I'm sure there's somebody for me out there."
Like Vinnie, Pua Magasiva loves to tease. He won't say what the show's decorative new addition might get up to before the festive season finale and beyond.
"The juicy details — they are a surprise."
The show: Shortland Street
The time and place: 7pm, TV2, weekdays